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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Thursday / February 22.
  • Kentucky President: ‘This banner won’t come down’

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    NEWARK – Amid a joyous celebration, Kentucky President Dr. Lee Todd was about to climb up a ladder at The Prudential Center and cut down a piece of the net representing Kentucky’s first Final Four appearance since 1998.

    Kentucky’s 76-69 victory over North Carolina in the East Regional final secured head coach John Calipari’s third Final Four with three different schools, but first at blueblood Kentucky, winner of seven national championships.

    The Wildcats will face Kemba Walker and UConn in one national semifinal Saturday in Houston, while Butler will face surprising VCU in the other.

    “He convinced me that this banner won’t come down,” Dr. Todd said of Calipari.

    As has been well-documented, Calipari’s previous two Final Fours have both been vacated – with UMass in 1996 and with Memphis in 2008.

    Now, he has a chance to enhance his tarnished legacy by winning his first national title and Kentucky’s first in 13 years.

    “To take a team that loses four NBA players and comes back with three freshmen in the starting lineup and does what he’s done now, that’s a pretty good commendation on his performance,” Dr. Todd said. “And as you see, these players develop and the quality of kids he’s got coming in next year, people will understand that John Calipari has a right to be very, very proud of how he’s coached and how he’s behaved for his whole career.”

    Still, Dr. Todd didn’t shy away from the fact that he had legitimate concerns about Calipari, so much so that the school hired Billy Gillispie over Calipari in 2007 when Calipari was at Memphis.

    Yet the wheel turned in 2009 the night Memphis loss in the Sweet 16, a year after Calipari and a Memphis team featuring Derrick Rose lost the 2008 NCAA championship game to Kansas.

    Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart called Dr. Todd.

    “I know you’ve got some concerns about Cal,” Dr. Todd recalled Barnhart saying. “He’s going to be in a hotel for three hours in Chicago. I’ve got a plane lined up in Bardstown, Ky. Nobody will know we go. And we’re gonna go hire him.”

    Calipari kicked off that three-hour meeting in a Chicago hotel room by telling Dr. Todd: “It’s Notre Dame football and Kentucky basketball and I want to be at Kentucky. I want the job and I want you to ask me anything you want to ask me in order to help me get this job.”

    Barnhart and Sandra Bell of the Kentucky compliance office had already vetted with the SEC and NCAA a series of questions for Dr. Todd to ask. The NCAA had come back and said they didn’t find anything irregular, Dr. Todd said.

    “Those two people gave me enough confidence that I thought I’ve just got to get over a little bit of a hurdle because compliance stops at the President’s office,” Dr. Todd said.

    During the meeting in Chicago, the President expressed concerns about the academic backgrounds of Calipari’s players at Memphis and Calipari’s previous NCAA investigations.

    “I had some concerns about some of the players that were playing on that [Memphis] team that had gone to some of those high schools that weren’t the caliber of high schools I thought they should be,” Dr. Todd said. “In the SEC, we didn’t recruit from those schools.

    “And also there was this focus around the Marcus Camby thing [at UMass] and so forth…I was concerned mostly about academics.”

    Calipari’s response?

    “He told me that he was wanting to bring to Kentucky the kind of players that would want to be at Kentucky and Duke and North Carolina and with this conference and with the background of this university, he would go after the very top players,” Dr. Todd said.

    Still, there was resistance from other factions at Kentucky.

    “There were some people that expressed some concerns,” Dr. Todd said.

    When Dr. Todd came to the school in 2001, the school had been under NCAA investigation for football violations and served a three-year probation that triggered the loss of 19 scholarships.

    “We had a culture that I didn’t like,” Dr. Todd said. “And I’m a native Kentuckyian, a UK graduate and a professor there years ago. And I didn’t want to take any chances that would make us take a back-step toward the culture that Mitch Barnhart had developed.

    “And so I thought long and hard about it.”

    But the meeting convinced Dr. Todd that Calipari was the right man for the job.

    “I had that conversation with him, once I looked him in the eyes and talked to him for that period of time, we were done,” he said. “I was ready to hire him.”

    Calipari was introduced as the new Kentucky coach on April 1, 2009.

    Almost five months later, Memphis was forced to vacate its 2008 Final Four and 38 wins that season after it was determined that Rose was an ineligible player because someone else took his SAT for him.

    Calipari said in a statement at the time that he was “very disappointed and disheartened by the NCAA’s findings.”

    Two years later, Dr. Todd pointed out that Brandon Knight, who scored a game-high 22 points, including a 3-pointer and 3 of 4 foul shots in the final 2 minutes, 51 seconds, is a 4.0 student.

    “Most people don’t know that,” Dr. Todd said. “But [Calipari] has got some very talented students.”

    Dr. Todd is aware that “everybody watches everything [Calipari] does,” but that Calipari likes working with Bell, the compliance director.

    “We have one of the strongest compliance departments and he loves it,” Dr. Todd said.

    Calipari himself understands the huge spotlight he’s under and knows the expectations for the head coach at Kentucky are sky-high every single year.

    “Well, you’re supposed to do it at Kentucky,” Calipari said of reaching the Final Four. “The other two schools [UMass and Memphis] you’re not supposed to do it. And a matter of fact you’re supposed to do more [at Kentucky], from what they tell me.”

    And now, John Calipari has another chance to do more, a chance to win Kentucky’s first title since Tubby Smith won one in 1998.

    He has a chance at some redemption.

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    Written by

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

    • Tubby Smith won the title in 1998. The Zagoria-Thamel-Forde-Pitino-North east media is just becoming more and more obvious. Sad you are all in it together.

    • Bledsoe at Duke?? Lol lol

    • What are these folks talking about?

      AZ is on it.

      Kentucky saying that this banner will NOT go down …WE JUST STARTING LAUGHING.

      AZ was the first site to mention the 8 violations.
      And JT then confirmed this.

      That will be a classic matchup, UconnBristol vs Kentucky.
      Two Black Eye Programs…The Dirty SemiFinal Game.

    • The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions is penalizing the University of Arizona Men’s basketball program for major violations.

      An announcement was made Thursday with penalties that include two years probation, recruiting restrictions, scholarship reductions, vacating wins and disassociation with an event promoter. The probation runs through July 28, 2012.

      The violations occurred on multiple occasions, the committee wrote in its public press release, and involved impermissible recruiting inducements and activities, a failure by former coach Lute Olson to promote an atmosphere of compliance and a failure to monitor by the university.

      The violations center around three Arizona Cactus Classic tournaments and a GOAZCATS.com Showdown, which the promoter was allowed to conduct on campus.

      Penalties include the loss of one scholarship for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years and vacating wins in which two players competed while ineligible.

      The University will not appeal the decision.

      Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/sports/articles/2010/07/29/20100729ncaa-penalizes-ua-basketball-program.html#ixzz1HtkPV8g2

    • Think I’ve lurked the blog for about 4 years, laughing then feeling guilty at Jessie’s mental retarded posts, but that one seriously irked me. Uconn and Kentucky are two black eye programs but not Arizona? The legendary coach Lute Olsen left the program he built, because of health reasons right? Get the hell out of here with your pot meets kettle analogy.

    • Jessie – did you see that final jumper that Kemba hit over D Williams on Saturday? Man that was silky smooth. Catch you in Houston this weekend? I’ll let you be my designated beer run guy.

    • Two things irk me about Coach Cal’s quotes:
      1. How can he basically say he would recruit a different type of kid to Kentucky than he got at Memphis? Didn’t he take his Memphis recruiting class with him to Kentucky last year?
      2. He said that he went into the meeting wanting the UK job, yet he came back to Memphis saying that he needed time to “think about his decision,” time he spent contacting his Memphis recruits to try to get them to go with him to Kentucky.
      As some people have said, with Coach Cal you can either buy into the sunny side or buy into the shady side, but you must acknowledge that the opposite side exists. He is a great coach who can recruit and can talk basketball with the best of them. He is also a coach who doesn’t mind walking the shadows and getting a little dirty to serve his agenda.

    • Come on Kentucky.

      That was funny! This banner will not come down.
      Very funny.

      Kentucky does have a large compliance office… Why?
      To give Cali and WWW direction on how to walk that LINE, the gray area.

      To kentucky advanatage… NcAA gave the Green Light for cheating based on the Non-Sanctions of UConnBristol.

      There is a slight chance this banner gets taken away.

      GET RID OF WWW.
      IF NOT, the Banner is always at play. Take it Away.

    • just like cal said. other schools not only want to beat us, they want be us.

      zona…..very desperate. its sad.

    • BostonCat – funny quote coming from a program that so wanted to be Memphis that it bought their coach, assistants, and recruits. How very short some people’s memories are.

    • Haters got to hate! What else will they do. Cal is dirty, cheater, get rid of WWW; blah blah blah. If he is so bad, why hasn’t he got caught. That is what I thought…Haters! You are right Boston, they want to be us.LOL!!!!

    • cal is/was memphis. memphis is now nothing. funny how everyone sees that but butthurt memphis fans.

    • Sorry BostonCat – I thought this was a site for adults to discuss basketball. My bad.

    • it is which is why you shouldnt post here. cal is/was memphis basketball. memphis fans need therapy, get over it already. he have a sold NIT level program in c-usa. learn to enjoy the little things.

    • 9:35am is a little early to be drunk posting BostonCat. If by “it is which is why” you mean “that is why”, in response to my thinking this was a site for rational conversation, then by all means, you’ve already proven your point. And, if by “he have a sold NIT level program” you mean – well, um, sorry – I can’t even guess at what you mean there. Can someone that speaks Kentuckese please help me translate.

    • went to the NIT last year, needed to win the c-usa tournament to get in this year. bounced in the 1st round. thats an NIT level program.

      hating on cal and uk wont change that. you need to except who and what you are and move on.

    • I love how trapjohn says “I thought this was a site for adults to discuss basketball. My bad.” How could you really think that this is a site for serious basketball talk? There is no way that you could spend any time here and read some of JessieWildcat’s (or what ever name he is currently going by) rants and think to yourself “this is a place for serious discussions.” Come on man, do you really want to question someone else’s intelligence?

    • Went to the NIT the year after Cal dessimated the program. Already made it back to NCAA’s the second year of rebuilding, and return almost the entire team including all five starters. I’ll take my program, you can have your team of rent-a-stars with its constantly changing cast of characters.

    • And I’ve never hated on Cal. I respect what he did and what he does. My initial point remains true though – you must accept the good with the bad, the positive and the negative. Coach Cal brings a lot of both.

    • see and thats where memphis fans just come off as stupid. you bitch about cal stealing your players but then call them “rent a stars”. on one hand you are pissed you dont have them and then you turn around and put them down.

      just absurd. i’m glad you are taking your program. no one else wants it.

    • Gascan – point taken. I was mainly refering to the “butthurt” comment. But if grammar, spelling, and sentence structure, as well as forming a cohesive argument, are no longer measures of intelligence, then you’re right, I need to lay off questioning someone else’s intelligence.

    • “i’m glad you are taking your program. no one else wants it.”

      So your point is that Kentucky looked at the 2008-2009 Memphis program and incoming recruits and said “Noone wants that.” Really – thats what you’re going with?

    • its the internet….who takes writing that serious?

      and there you go again thinking its about memphis. its not, its about cal.

    • Where is Jessie?? I want to hear more about his theory that Vegas fixed the UConn – Zona game (even though UConn didnt cover the -2.5 pt spread). According to his last post, the FBI is currently looking into the game…

    • Husky….go to AC.

      I am LMAO… Kentucky has one of the best compliance programs…. LOL.

      NOT even close.

      JayZ is let into the locker and talks to the players going Pro next year.

      Major violation!!

      The BANNER is GONE!